Records: Lakers 9-4 (2nd in West), Clippers 5-3 (6th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 100.3 (14th in NBA), Clippers 104.2 (6th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 94.8 (4th in NBA), Clippers 102.1 (22nd in NBA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Clippers: Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan.
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake (out), Jason Kapono (day-to-day), Derrick Caracter (out); Clippers: none.
The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have won five games in a row with the most recent victory coming at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers. During the winning streak, the Lakers have held opponents to 86.8 points per game on 41.6 percent field goal shooting.
The defense is one of the stingiest in the league and has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle of Kobe’s spectacular three-game scoring stretch.
In addition, Matt Barnes seems to have a stranglehold on the starting small forward position. The UCLA product has been solid on defense and has also contributed on offense within the flow of the game. During the Lakers win streak, Barnes has been averaging 12.2 points and 6.8 rebounds on 61.5 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 shooting from 3-point range.
His easy transition opportunities as well as his long range shooting have given the purple and gold new options on offense that the team did not have early on in the season.
The Clippers Coming in: The Clippers are coming off a thrilling home overtime victory against the Miami Heat. Chris Paul was at his absolute best, scoring late in the shot clock and setting up the likes of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Caron Butler for open shots.
As good as Paul is, the Clippers rely too much on him; especially in late game situations. Far too often, the Clips fail to show any variety in their play-calling, preferring instead to simply run a pick-and-roll and go with whatever options they get from the set. The end result is that Paul ends up always having the ball at the top of the key with a bigger defender (a lot of teams like to switch in pick-and-roll defense late in games to avoid giving up uncontested shots) guarding him as he explores his options. Usually he can blow by the defender but finishing is typically an issue because of the bigger player that’s there to contest this shot.
These situations presented themselves against the Trail Blazers and the Bulls; and until a more fluid offense is used late in fourth quarters, it is quite possible that the Clippers will have issues scoring the ball in late game situations.
Keys to game: The Clippers present an interesting matchup for the Lakers because they have the speed, quickness and ball-handling skills at the point guard position to get by the Lakers perimeter defenders and score in the lane or dish off to their big men that can finish at the basket. Also, if Paul or Mo Williams are able to get inside the lane and take high percentage shots, the Clippers big men are smart enough to get into position for offensive rebounds and they also have the athletic ability to finish over the Lakers’ frontline.
In addition, the Clippers are one of the few teams capable of giving both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum fits. Indeed, DeAndre Jordan’s length will make it tough for Bynum to finish at the rim and although Griffin is not exactly a great defender, what he brings to the table on offense may progressively wear down Pau Gasol.
With that said, in the two preseason games in December, the Clippers were victorious against the Lakers because they did three things extremely well:
1. Turnovers: they forced the Lakers to commit a boatload of turnovers and then ran back the other way and got some easy transition opportunities.
2. Rebounding: The Clippers lost the rebounding battles in both games but managed to stay close in terms of offensive rebounds. Second chance opportunities should be a huge factor in this contest.
3. 3-point shooting: The Lakers have given up a lot of open 3-point attempts so far this season, and the Clips happily took advantage of the Lakers inability to close out on shooters by shooting a combined 21-for-48 from deep.
If the Lakers can do a better job in these areas against the Clippers, they should have the chance to win the game late. It’s worth noting that the Clippers do not have a player on the roster capable of making Kobe truly work for his points.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on FSN Prime Ticket but the game will also be on national television courtesy of NBA TV. Also liven live on ESPN Radio 710AM.